According to Edmund Burke, Bad Laws are the worst sort of Tyranny. Whilst neither of the laws I am reflecting on in this blog appear on the surface to be tyrannical, they are very definitely bad laws.
The first piece of legislation has been covered a number of times before. It is the so called Gagging Law or to give it its correct title, the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14” As I have written previously the Bill was intended to be one of the first pieces of legislation this Government introduced, David Cameron spoke about the problems with lobbying in March 2010 as leader of the Opposition and the coalition agreement contained a commitment to address lobbying. It took until July 2013 for a draft Bill to be published and there has been very little time for the text to be given the Parliamentary scrutiny it needs. According to the trade body for lobbyists The Association of Professional Political Consultants, the Bill will capture a mere 2% of the lobbying activities going on in Parliament. However worse than this, in the period prior to an election, it will oblige many organisations engaging with Parliament or even their own MPs to register under the same sort of bureaucratic measures as if they were a political party. This will include charities and community groups as well as trade bodies and networking organisations. The consequence of this is that many groups that are currently attempting to challenge law makers with the consequences of their actions, will either need to comply with strict rules on spending and fairness, or else will be gagged and forced to disengage with MPs and candidates in the year before each election.
MPs love to tell us how their decisions are taken to reflect the views of the people they meet on the doorstep or wide public opinion. This week NFP Synergy has published some research that explains how much support there is for charities to get involved in changing laws in areas where the charities have a level of expertise or involvement. They also asked MPs from the three main parties what they felt about the same issue:
The total lack of support for this activity in the Conservative Party and similar in the Labour Party compared to the Population at large, shows just how out of touch our lawmakers are. 78% of the Conservative MPs questions believe that there is no place for charities in political discourse, no challenges over foodbanks, doorstep lending, welfare reform, or care for the most vulnerable. An end to the challenges for the way the banking system is run, and on environmental issues. We have a small group of very powerful men (and possibly a few women) whose view is that charities should work for free and say nothing whilst they get on with the real work of running the economy and holding Europe to Account.
The second piece of legislation is contained within the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. Clause 1 of this Bill if enacted has the potential to for people to use the law to prevent other people doing things they find offensive and inconvenient. Examples already given are Carol Singers, Morris Dancers, Football Fans and Political Campaigners. The Bill creates a new instrument known as an IPNA (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance). This Bill is being challenged from all sides of Civil Society with the Secular Society joining forces with the Christian Institute and Peter Tatchell working with Lord MacDonald, the former DPP. There is of course an upside, The closer we get to the General Election in May 2015 the greater the temptation for communities to seek IPNAs to stop Politicians from knocking on their doors on a Sunday Morning!
I have no idea which laws Edmund Burke was referring to in his famous quote, but I wonder if there is actually an even worse form of tyranny than bad laws, and that is to have a Political System that gives control of the law making process to the same sort of out of touch and privileged individuals who are able to return to Westminster, election after election irrespective of whether they do a good job or not, because the tribal system ensures that once they are in a safe seat, that there they can stay until they want to retire or do other things. Perhaps that is the worst sort of tyranny?